The NCAA’s attitude toward college football is like the scene in “Apollo 13,” when astronaut Jim Lovell’s wife Marilyn takes in the damage after the moon-shot party. “I can’t deal with cleaning up,” she says. “Let’s sell the house.”
One of the more disillusioning seasons in memory will wrap up with what should rightly be called the BS Bowl, and whether the NCAA knows it or not, it faces a huge crisis of public confidence. People are sick of players on the take who spend about as much time in class as they do at a Gas-N-Sip, and NCAA pipe tampers who harbor them with morally casual attitudes dressed up in bow ties. The argument university presidents use to avoid personal responsibility is that corruption in the game is an intractable problem beyond the capacity of individuals to solve it. It’s too big to clean up. So they just sell the house.
But that’s an easy out. There are a half-dozen reforms that would restore some honor and clean purpose to the sport tomorrow, if only school administrators would find the backbone. It’s not that no one knows what to do. They just lack the will to do it.
“I don’t buy this notion that it’s beyond me,” says Tulane President Scott Cowen. “I don’t buy this notion that I can do nothing to influence it. Individual presidents have to bear responsibility for their own institution. We can’t simply say, ‘It’s too much bigger than me and it’s somebody else’s problem.’ That’s passing the buck.”
A reform movement should start with the understanding that while NCAA division I-A football isn’t exactly studies in ancient Cypriot texts, nevertheless it has genuine educational value. It’s as important as math or music or poetry in helping to open students’ potential. It belongs on campus and is worth saving. It’s not like it would take unconventional weapons and millions of casualties.
Here are the six steps:
l One: Cut the number of football scholarships from 85 to 70. Athletic department budgets have become insupportably high, thanks largely to the cost of football, and the red ink has led presidents and athletic directors to make terrible decisions in pursuit of bowl money. Ohio State’s sports budget is an unseemly $110 million. A reasonable downsizing of football programs will restore the right, sane, priorities.
Nearly 80 percent of major athletic programs lose money, to the tune of an average of $9.9 million annually. At 44 percent of the institutions playing major college football, revenues did not cover the cost of the team. About $1.8 billion in student fees and university funds went to covering the gaps in 2009-10, according to a USA Today study.
Football scholarships are the second-most expensive item in any athletic department, with a median cost of $5.8 million annually. Then there are the indirect costs like team travel, which runs at around $2.5 million annually. Allowing a football team 85 scholarships means three scholarships per position. No other sport has such luxury. Quit feeding the beast. If an NFL team can play 16 games with 53 players, a college team will be fine with 70 players. Coaches who protest those limitations can do what coaches in so many non-revenue sports do: cultivate non-scholarship athletes. What would the harm be if the kick coverage and return teams were comprised of some people who, you know, actually go to their schools?